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Donald W. Aitken, Jr.

Donald Aitken Jr. passed away peacefully on Sunday, February 27 at age 85 at his home in Ajijic, surrounded by his family.

pg15Born in Hilo, Hawaii, son of Donald W. Aitken and Evelyn Drechsel Aitken, Don grew up in Madison, Wisconsin, graduated from Dartmouth College, Summa Cum Laude, with a major in music, and received his PhD with distinction in high-energy nuclear physics at Stanford University, remaining another nine years there as a research physicist.

Don also became involved in environmental protection, and the preservation of open space. In 1960, with David Brower, he co-founded the international organization, Friends of the Earth, now the largest environmental network in the world. Don left Stanford in 1972 to develop California’s first Department of Environmental Studies at San Jose State University, chairing the department for 21 years, concentrating his teaching on renewable energy policy and architecture. During the Carter administration, he created and directed a federal program to accelerate the commercialization of solar energy.

A longstanding interest in architecture stemmed from his experience with Frank Lloyd Wright’s home design for Herbert and Katherine Jacobs, his future parents-in-law. This led later to a 34-year affiliation with the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture as Professor of sustainable architecture. After marrying Elizabeth Jacobs in 1958, together they commissioned and built the first home designed by Lloyd Wright’s group of mentored associates after the visionary architect died. The house was nestled in the mountains above Stanford University, and Don and his wife raised their family and lived there for nearly 40 years.

Don cofounded the Northern California Solar Energy Association (NCSEA) and served in its leadership. Twice he served as the president of the American Solar Energy Society, and he was vice president of the International Solar Energy Society (ISES).  

In 1991, Don left his university teaching to serve for a decade as the Senior Staff Scientist for the Union of Concerned Scientists for Renewable Energy. He worked with legislatures and public utilities commissions throughout the United States with special emphasis in California on electric utility restructuring, and he developed energy policy that is now implemented in the European Union. 

Don spoke at multiple international conferences, lecturing on renewable and sustainable energy, receiving many honors for his work over the years, and publishing numerous scientific papers.

In his semi-retirement years, he lived in Ajijic, where he and his late wife Barbara Harwood, converted the first solar home in the area and encouraged the use of solar energy in the region.  

Don cultivated a lifelong enjoyment of music, playing the harpsichord and the piano throughout his life.  He was an avid sailor and a world-record holding sailplane pilot.

Don is survived by his daughters, Sarah Aitken and her husband Greg, of Ashland, Oregon, Katherine Aitken-Young and her wife Kim, of Redwood City, California, five grandchildren, his former wife Elizabeth Jacobs Aitken, and his constant companion of the past six years, Leslie Kingsbury of Ajijic.

A private memorial service will be held. Contributions in Don’s memory may be made to his beloved International Festival Del Lago, an internationally renowned Music Festival and Academy for which he was an important and dedicated benefactor. Donations may be made using the link on the memorial page: https://sites.google.com/view/donaldaitken/home.

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